“Medical emergency! Will crewperson Nguyen report to Deck Three cargo bay with the medkit on the double.”
Lubbock snapped awake, rolled over in his bed and hit the intercom. “Captain here. What the hell’s going on?”
“Fu Quan here, Captain. One of the cradle’s clamps tore loose and dropped one end of the probe on technician Harcourt Fenton. Chief Garcia is examining the damage. I’ve sent for Isabelle—”
“I heard.” Shiva on a pogo stick. “I’ll be down as soon as I get dressed. Captain out.”
Quite a crowd had gathered by the time Lubbock arrived at the cradle. Garcia and Fu were going over the twisted remains of the clamp. The injured tech lay on the floor with a folded blanket as a pillow. Nguyen had injected him with a pain killer, straightened his broken leg and was even now wrapping a Mender-500™ around the injured limb. Farb was frantic.
“Captain Lubbock! This is supposed to be a sterile area. I can’t have your crew wandering about in here.”
“A man’s been injured, Farb!”
“Don’t I know it. The time we’ll lose! Let’s move him out of here to a place where he can be doctored properly. And this whole area will have to be resterilized.”
“We can move him in a couple of minutes, Captain,” Nguyen said.
“Take all the time you need, Isabelle,” Lubbock said between clenched teeth. He walked over to the cradle, Farb in tow. Technicians Rayne, Stevens and Davout peered over the shoulders of the two engineers. Lubbock shooed them away. “What happened here, Don?”
Chief Engineer Donal Conan Garcia y Vega sat back on his heels and scratched at one of his mutton-chop sideburns. He looked up at the captain. “Someone spilled acid on this joint.” He indicated the place. “Or deliberately put it there. It weakened the joint, with obvious results.”
“Sabotage!” shrieked Farb.
“Fuck!” added Lubbock.
“We can move Fenton now, Captain.”
Lubbock glanced around, focused on the technicians. “Stevens and Davout. Put your buddy on that stretcher and take him to quarters. Take the freight elevator to Deck Two, then use the personnel lift from there to Deck One. You’ll probably have to angle the stretcher to fit it into the lift.”
“We’ll manage,” Stevens said flatly. While the techs busied themselves with that task, Lubbock returned his attention to the damaged cradle. “Don, can you rig up something to hold the probe in place?”
While the Chief Engineer mulled over the request, Engineer Sprey walked in, her Vargr shadow right behind. Farb saw them and had a fit.
“She’s covered in grease! And that Vargr will shed all over the place! Get them out of here!”
Arghaz smiled at Farb, not the friendliest gesture in a Vargr. Lubbock jerked a thumb at the door. Sprey nooded, and motioned for Arghaz to follow.
“Hold it a minute, Pepper,” Chief Garcia called out. He stood and flashed a gap-toothed grin. “I have a little project for you. Wait for me in the machine shop.” Sprey acknowledged and departed with the Vargr. Garcia pulled out a notepad and bent over the damaged cradle again.
Knowing that the situation was well in hand from an engineering standpoint, Lubbock walked over to where his First Mate was quietly watching the proceedings. The Captain motioned for the Mate to follow him out into the cargo bay.
“We have a problem, Mohammed Ivanovitch.” He told the Mate about the acid. “Any thoughts?”
“Could have been accident, but who’s using acid in there? No, looks like sabotage.”
“Question is, whom?”
“Must be one of the techs. Probably a plant by rival firm out to see Vaughn-Payne R&D lose its contract. Then again, might not be one of the techs.”
Lubbock’s mouth fell open. “You’re not suggesting one of the crew did this?!”
“No, we’ve been together too long.”
The Captain considered the alternatives. “Arghaz?”
First Mate Smith lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “Maybe. What do we really know about her?”
“But she’s under constant supervision. When she’s not working with Pepper, she’s doing chores for Isabelle.”
“But does Isabelle watch her every minute? And what about the Vargr’s rest time? Isabelle gave her a cabin up near the galley end of the passenger deck, but that’s also near the main stairwell that runs down to Deck Three.”
Lubbock chewed his lip. “This isn’t good. Until we figure out who’s responsible we can expect more accidents.”
“We could put guard on the probe bay twenty-four hours a day.”
“And who will do that duty? We just don’t have the personnel.”
“We could pull couple of engineers off maintenance duties. And add Isabelle, too. Have them stand six hour shifts on guard duty.”
“Garcia will have a fit. The engineers are doing seven-hour maintenance shifts as it is just to keep this old bucket operating. Though, I suppose we can have a complete overhaul when we return to Port Whipsnade to make up for lost maintenance time.” Lubbock sighed and ran a hand through his black hair. “I’ll have a talk with Garcia and see what he says.” He glanced at the chronometer built into his left thumbnail. “I’ve got the Bridge watch in a couple of hours. I’ll talk to him before then.”
Smith nodded. “What’ll we do about the Vargr?”
Now, that’s a problem. With Pepper and Isabelle on guard duty, the Vargr would have even more free time. “I don’t know. Can’t accuse her without proof, but do we really want her to have the freedom of the ship? I’ll think about it.”
“Too bad we ripped out the low berths and turned that compartment into space for refrigerated cargo. We could have put the Vargr in cold sleep.”
“Yeah, isn’t hindsight marvelous.” Lubbock raised clawed hands to his temples and scatched vigorously at this scalp as though this might stimulate thought. “Gods, what a mess! I’ve got to think this through. I’m going to grab a sandwich on my back to my cabin. Tell Garcia I’d like to see him at his convenience.”
Lubbock strode to the stairwell and climbed up to Deck One. He came upon Nguyen in the galley wiping down surfaces with disinfectant. “Captain?”
“How’s your patient?”
“Sleeping. I cleaned and bandaged the abrasions on his leg, set the broken bone and wrapped it.”
“He’s hooked up to the med-scanner.” She touched the tear-drop earring on her right lobe. “The scanner’s alarm is tied in to this receiver.”
Lubbock nodded and dropped into a chair. “Can you whip up a sandwich for me, Isabelle?”
“Sure. Sliced rabbit on lettuce and tomato okay?”
“Yeah.” The Captain put his elbows on the table and rested chin on hands. He pondered the options open to him but came up with no answers. Could they set a trap of some sort to catch the saboteur in the act? Did they have any truth serum on board? He could interrogate the techies, then. And speaking of the technicians, what if Farb himself was the culprit? That’d put a wrench in the works.
Garcia came and sat down at Lubbock’s table. “You wanted to see me, Captain?”
“Yes.” Lubbock sat up straight as Nguyen placed a sandwich and cup of tea before him. He thanked her and took a sip of his tea. When he set the cup down, he told Garcia about the First Mate’s idea of using the engineers as guards for the probe. “I know it’ll hurt maintenance work, but I don’t know what else we can do.”
Garcia leaned back in his chair and exhaled sharply. “Pepper is going to shit bricks.”
“Well, who’s running the engine room—you or Pepper?”
Garcia’s face turned red. Lubbock stared at his sandwich for a long moment.
“I’m sorry, Don. This situation has me on edge. Gods know what the saboteur will target next. And Pepper has every right to worry about maintenance. Just as I know you do. If you have a better idea, I’m willing to listen.”
“I wish to hell I did, Captain.”
Lubbock nodded and picked up his sandwich. “I’ll defer my decision until after you jury-rig a new clamp for the probe’s cradle. That’s our priority right now.”
“Yes, sir.” The Chief Engineer stood, patted Lubbock on the shoulder and departed.
The Captain suddenly had no appetite, but he forced himself to finish the meal.